If Six Hundred Four‘s area code-referencing name wasn’t enough of a clue, James Lepp wants the act of lacing up a pair from his newly-launched sneaker line to feel like you’re putting on a part of Vancouver. The locally-focused lifestyle brand is the second venture from Lepp, following the PGA veteran’s previously delivered Kikkor Golf brand. Six Hundred Four is the next step for the businessman, a chance to showcase his designs off the links.
“I wanted to do mostly men’s lifestyle wear and men’s sneakers because I had been making men’s golf shoes and golf apparel for four or five years,” Lepp says during an interview at Six Hundred Four’s sneaker gallery in Gastown, where the walls are lined with a sole-replicating honeycomb tread. “I wanted to extend that, become a brand that all my friends could wear at all times rather than just the golf course.”
While broadening the market appeal, the Abbotsford-born entrepreneur also wanted to offer a unique experience to customers. His idea was to work together with a group of local artists, asking each to produce a painting that could be replicated in parts across four different hand-crafted, street-ready sneaker designs. Lepp explains: “In my mind, it doesn’t take a whole lot to design a shoe, or a few styles of shoes, and introduce a luxury sneaker brand just using solid colours. Let’s do something way cooler than that: let’s throw some amazing art on the shoes.”
The first artist to sign onto the project was Jennifer Sparacino, whom Lepp had first contacted about designing a golf shirt for Kikkor. Instead, she produced her painting The Long Winter, an outdoor scene showcasing a cyan-, gold-, and magenta-mottled grizzly bear. The piece currently hangs in Six Hundred Four’s showroom; you can see its compassionate eyes replicated on the rising “Grade A” crust leather back of the Cambie hi-top model, and its vibrant, multi-coloured torso across the canvas plane of the lo-cut Abbott.
All told, seven artists have their pieces digitally printed on the first wave of Six Hundred Four designs, these visuals referencing downtown spots, oceanic creatures of the West Coast, and the grandeur of Garibaldi Provincial Park. “A lot of them thought it was a scam,” Lepp reveals with a laugh, noting that Six Hundred Four didn’t have a website when he first sought out collaborators with a pitch and a few mock-up drawings.
A quaint touch: each artist has their work showcased on 604 pairs of shoes (151 in each design). Adding a philanthropic element, 6.04 per cent of each sale goes to a charity of the artist’s choice. Recipients will include the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, ArtStarts in Schools, and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
Further entwining itself into the cultural fabric of Vancouver, the Six Hundred Four storefront doubles as an art hub. Lepp envisions the sneaker gallery, situated just around the corner from the famous Steam Clock, as another prime Gastown destination for locals and tourists alike. “You have a mixture of fashion brands and you also have these souvenir shops; people go into both,” he says of the area. “I feel like when they come into our store, they also come into both, because you’re wearing a really cool piece of Vancouver that’s also very fashionable.”